While progress, as slow as it’s been, is being made, the NFL still has a long way to go before the message behind the national anthem protests really hits home.
Seth DeValve just did his part to further the conversation, going further than any known white NFL player before him was willing to go.
The Cleveland Browns tight end showed solidarity with 11 of his teammates when he knelt in prayer during the national anthem before the preseason meeting with the New York Giants on Monday.
It was a breakthrough for a movement started by Colin Kaepernick a year ago and continued by players like Seattle’s Michael Bennett and Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch this season.
As encouraging as it was to see the Browns stage the largest anthem gesture yet, the most profound aspect was DeValve’s involvement.
There’s a reason why Bennett last week said he would like to see a white player follow suit during the anthem, because “you bring somebody who doesn’t really have to be a part of the conversation, making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a big jump”.
A day later, Philadelphia’s Chris Long – a white player – put his arm around Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his first during the anthem.
One day after that, Bennett’s white teammate Justin Britt stood next to him as he kneeled and put his arm on his shoulder.
Both gestures, by Long and Britt, were admirable. They were also half measures, done in a manner that showed support for their teammates – who are the ones opening themselves up to criticism and, in the wake of Kaepernick, possible unemployment – while remaining inoffensive to those who believe the anthem is too sacred for kneeling, sitting, or any other gesture they deem uncomfortable.
So, credit to Long and Britt because it’s certainly better than inaction, but DeValve went where they wouldn’t.
If you hadn’t heard of DeValve before now, you’re not the only one. He’s a second-year tight end who was drafted in the fourth round – not exactly bulletproof from being cut to avoid a distraction.
He also has an African American wife, Erica, which means he has stakes in the current social climate, for her and their future children.
It’s necessary for someone of DeValve’s skin colour to do what he did, but hopefully it will lead to other white players, who may have less personal reason to join in, to strengthen the cause.